On Friday, Oct. 25, an email from the Ben Franklin Reform Democratic Club that referred to an upcoming meeting for members arrived in my inbox. From this email I extracted that, precisely five months to the day I submitted a new member inquiry form on the Ben Franklin Club website, I had finally become a member.
Why did my club membership take so long?
My process, and the apparent answer to that question, implies a gentle warning about political opposition in both the Assembly and city council districts the club is based in.
• My new member inquiry form was ignored for weeks on end. I left a message on the Ben Franklin answering machine notifying the club about the potentially overlooked form, along with my telephone number. No one returned my call.
• After an August club meeting, I asked a young committee member who had just given a presentation on the updated Ben Franklin website where the data collected from website users went — clarifying that I was referring to my inquiry form.
She was appalled at how long I had been waiting, and alerted the longtime members standing around her.
I quickly interjected that the club leaders beside her knew precisely who I was, and didn’t need time to confirm my party affiliation or my address.
I worked on the campaign for the opponent of our current councilman, and currently work on the campaign for an opponent of the son of our current Assemblyman. They know that I am a local Democrat.
The quick chaos and ugliness that ensued that August evening — being ridiculed by a longtime elected official, being yelled at by the club president before he stormed away (“You have (X number of) seconds to give me your email address. No? OK, then I don’t care!”) — does not befit a local organization.
• After cooler heads prevailed that evening, my email address (already submitted on the new member inquiry form) was ultimately collected on a scrap of paper, and I finally earned an application form.
• My application check was cashed on Sept. 5, but I received no notification of membership or any upcoming meetings. The mother of the city council candidate I support experienced a similar delay.
• I attended the Oct. 23 Ben Franklin meeting without the email invitation that outlined the meeting’s agenda. I did not vote in a club nominating committee election because I had received no validation of membership. The member beside me heard my frustration and alerted that young committee member who had helped me to earn an application in August of my predicament.
• I am finally a member only because the young committee member made it happen. The old guard was content to cash my check and keep me sitting in abeyance.
• At the Oct. 23 meeting, members spoke of welcoming new people and ideas to the club, of establishing dues that would not be prohibitive for new members, of having as many members as possible, of never turning away new members.
Since these ideals contradict my experience, I have concluded that it was tempting for the club’s leaders to suppress a voice of opposition — to in fact act in contrast to the principles of a “reform Democratic club.”
What is the differential diagnosis? That the Ben Franklin Reform Democratic Club, comprised of dedicated volunteers, is disorganized? That a 50-year-old club doesn’t have a straightforward membership process?
Since others in my community have experienced a quick pathway to membership, I have deduced that the club has become, at its core, a political launch pad for a longstanding district machine.
How very disappointing.
How very Trumpian.
The author is a creative director and the campaign manager for Dan Padernacht’s city council campaign.